Last month, I attended my first AASLH workshop, “Focusing on Visitors: Public Programming and Exhibits at History Institutions.” My attendance was made possible by receiving AASLH’s diversity workshop scholarship. The two-day workshop was held at historic Locust Grove, in my city of Louisville, Kentucky. The instructors, Alexandra Rasic of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum and Tim Grove of the National Air and Space Museum, facilitated a crash course on education, public planning, and exhibits, with a focus on visitors at different kinds of history institutions. Participants discussed the issues and challenges we face in providing relevant and meaningful programs for a variety of audiences, and worked through concepts presented in the book The Museum Educator’s Manual: Educators Share Successful Techniques.
I chose this workshop for professional and institutional development. I am the head archivist for the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville, an organization with a rich history. The sisters arrived in Louisville in 1858, and owned and staffed schools (preschool to college) until 1990 in Kentucky and other states. The Ursuline Sisters of Louisville’s archive is connected to the Sacred Heart Schools (pre-kindergarten to high school), and is located on the campus. The sisters sponsor Sacred Heart Schools at Ursuline Campus. I attended the workshop hoping to learn how to better advance the mission of the archive (interpreting the history of the Ursuline Sisters) and how to attract a more diverse population to our archive. Additionally, I hoped to learn how to strengthen our relationships with our current visitor populations (students, teachers, alumni, and researchers).
I learned a lot in two full days! It was a very diverse group, which included people from various sized institutions and states, including Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Washington D.C. For both days, we combined large group discussions with focused small group activities. The small group activities focused on real life situations that were important to my site, such as training volunteers, brainstorming interactive exhibits, and connecting to audiences and finding relevancy at our sites.
We covered various topics the first day, including defining museum education, discussing general topics in museum education, and planning at our sites. We defined museum education according to the three professional standards of accessibility, accountability, and advocacy. The group began to dive into museum education and discuss general issues we thought were important to succeed, such as our expectations for visitors, relevancy, and active learning. Next, we discussed planning, including getting to know visitors, creating more opportunities for conversation, reaching different audiences, and understanding barriers to visitation. Lastly, we talked about the role of volunteers at our sites including management, recruitment, and training. At the end of the day, we went on a tour of Locust Grove, hosted by two staff members who also participated in the workshop, so we could see how the principles of museum education were carried out at this eighteenth-century farm site and National Historic Landmark.
The second day focused on learning about the educational uses of interactives. We started by defining good interactives (those having one clear learning objective), then we discussed different museum apps and examined the importance of using social media at our sites. My favorite small group activity of the day was brainstorming interactive exhibitions for a particular audience. It was exciting to plan an exhibit with team members from such different sites, and also interesting to hear how other groups planned their exhibits with the goal of designing for diverse audiences. We also brainstormed about rethinking public tours, including ideas like taking down the ropes at historic sites and highlighting children during the tour.
I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at this workshop, and would highly recommend attending a workshop in the future if you can. The experience helped me to grow professionally, and is helping me to improve my site by being a better leader and utilizing the ideas and methods from the workshop to further the mission of my archive. I am honored to have attended the workshop, and to be a part of the AASLH community.